Wild Women with Tender Hearts
by Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten (Peru 1962–64)
55 pages

Reviewed by Monique Maria Schmidt (Benin 1998–2000)

    IF YOU KNOW SOMEONE who needs the dust power-sprayed off his/her social conscience, who has yet to fall in love with language, or who yearns for the pleasant revelations found in a work of words; If you know someone who seeks honesty, who must laugh out loud, and who revels in the beauty and simplicity found in small moments, If you know someone who appreciates a strong voice, buy them Wild Women with Tender Hearts by Patricia S. Taylor Edmisten!
         In a succinct and riveting collection, Edmisten gifts us with poems establishing connections between global and local social issues, between startled amusement and apprehensive worry, between the expressible and the unexplainable.
         I would like to say her poetry romps, except it’s not a romp, per say. Found in one poem after another, her knack for utilizing words to succinctly portray the monumental importance of life’s small moments rollicks through the collection like waves. With such lines as found in “Do Rwandan Women get the Blues?”— “Upon your regal heads,/ you bear water in earthen jugs/ secured by slim ballerina arms./ Your children struggle to keep up./ Not from surfeit are their bellies swollen,” her images flow and rivet in our minds the need for greater human awareness.
         However, the impressive part of her writing lies in the fact that her poems are not all waves. Towards the end of each poem, Edmisten crafts one sentence with such a solid nugget of truth in it, the words turn from an element of water into a solid boulder on the shore completely grounding the reader in a moment of exquisite astonishment. Such a moment is found in “Heels.” Edmisten forgoes mincing words or ideas, and the poem ends in the same manner as the girl it describes, “Tight ass no longer protruding for his pleasure,/ she walks pridefully for self.”
         Another beautiful moment of change in motion leaps at the reader in “Wild Woman,” the opening poem. This time Edmisten gives us a woman who “herald(s) power,” whose “strong, tanned feet dig into the yielding sand . . . Like a Carib queen, she laughs from the belly.” In the final line, “she returns to work, victim no more,” Edmisten lets us know that the language of the poem, like the woman’s laughter, hides the truth of the story: the woman had suffered.
         The reader soon discovers the poems sail, filled with wind, moving moving moving until the cadence or rhythm stops, changes direction and the movement of Edmisten’s thoughts takes the reader’s heart to the quiet place that is missed and remembered right upon awakening, the place where soul meets the world and the two understand. Edmisten has delectably collected honesty. She grasps language and doesn’t hesitate to wield its power, making the reader realize, “Wow, I just read that poem without breathing.”
         Like the moon’s pull on water, the writer’s words draw the reader from one poem to the next. Whether an avid fan of poetry or a novice picks up the book, Edmisten’s skill at describing precise details allows the reader to painfully understand the isolation in the eyes of the woman in the poem “Burqua” as she asks, “Does it make him feel good/ that no other man has seen your delicate white wrists.” The poem moves from world concepts (or misconceptions) “Do you wear explosives under all that yardage?” to practicalities “How do you pee in that wee water closet?/ How do you properly position yourself/ to not wet your robes?” As she ends the poem, “Only your eyes are hungry. / Forgive my suspicions, sister,” the reader can not miss the fact that Edmisten’s clean and clear writing is meant to erode barriers of ignorance. “Burqua” delivers moments of reflection on how clothing often does not protect women, and that some forms of protection actually invite more scrutiny instead of creating security.
         She switches to a different continent in “Do Rwandan Women get the Blues?” and reminds us of the multitude of levels on which humans establish connections and that Africa has a reality behind tourism with the line, “Marasmus and Kwashiorkor are not exotic safari destinations.”
         Part of being compelled to devour Edmisten’s poetry derives from the fact that she doesn’t bait the reader; she delivers lush moments of contemplation. Her view of the world gives the reader the initiative to fish his/her soul for resonance, for reverberations. Her words initiate a nourishing gathering, like good friends who bring wisdom and laughter along with their apple pie to park.
         Some of her poems, such as “My Shadow Side” must be shared with the friends and the apple pie at the park. Not only do her poems internally switch directions with the wind of her words, the entire collection does. One poem reminds us of human tragedy, the next piece of work gives us the “elfin” aspect of life. In “My Shadow Side,” her imp comes alive as Edminsten’s shadow side says “yes to hot fudge sundaes/ no to broccoli/ piss off to right wingers” and ends up “danc(ing) the tango with Antonio Bandeiras/ wearing fish net stockings and stiletto heels/ and lives in a hut on stilts/ on Bora Bora.”
         In “Dancer,” Edmisten moves from the tangible in nature, “ you float across the dance floor/ like a ripe pomegranate,” to the intangible, “Your papaya arms foretell the wealth of flesh/ beneath your luminous finery.” From flesh to soul, the whole woman dances. Using her innate understanding of language, Edmisten’s poems journey from internal to external. They are written on paper, meant for the heart. The last line of the poem uses the body’s foundation, legs, to create a stable end for the writing: “But who would have expected/ the legs of a ballerina?”
         Reading her book is like searching for a fine wine, and then realizing what is really needed is the snappy and unexpectedly wise T-shirt on the rack at the gas station off of Exit 37. The astute reader realizes, “This book of living fits. I deserve this.”

    So, if you know someone who respects life,
    who chases dragon flies,
    who inhales the Sunday paper,
    who would pole vault a fire pit,
    and perhaps counsels cheetahs:
    grant them several days with Wild Women with Tender Hearts. Chances are they will understand you are a kindred spirit and worthy of befriending.

    Monique Maria Schmidt, author of Last Moon Dancing, winner of the 2006 Peace Corps Writers’ Paul Cowan Non-Fiction Award was born in Kansas and moved with her family to a sheep farm in Mennonite community in South Dakota. While completing her undergraduate degree, she studied and worked in France. After graduation, she joined the Peace Corps for two years of service in West Africa. She has also lived and worked in Japan, the West Indies, and Latin America. With an MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University, she has taught composition and creative writing in Colorado and New York. She is currently at work on her second book and is available for poetry readings and presentations about West Africa and volunteerism. Please contact her at